Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A century ago: A dinner celebrating the Philippines - without Filipino food

IF YOU'VE EVER BEEN to a Filipino household, the first or second question you're asked as you slip off your shoes, is: "Have you eaten?"

Right away, even if you are not hungry, you're swept to the kitchen table and fed whatever is on the stove or something from the fridge that can be heated up right away. You'd be wise not to refuse a helping or two if you don't want to risk offending the host or hostess.

That's why it was curious to note that 100 years ago today (Aug. 20), one of the first official State dinners held in Washington D.C occurred ... and there was no Filipino food!!!! That says a lot about the tenor of the times and the relationship between the U.S. and its newly acquired colony in the far side of the Pacific.

It seems stranger still because today, Filipino cuisine is enjoying a moment in foodie circles, spurred on by the success of food trucks, pop-up restaurants and the efforts of the Filipino Food Movement, a group trying to push Filipino food beyond the traditional boundaries of the turo-turo (literally: "point-point) markets and mom-and-pop restaurants.
The Food Movement's event, Savor Filipino (more on this in an upcoming post) is augmented by the rise of some restaurants that have garnered the attention of food critics, including Maharlika in New York City and D.C.'s Bad Saint was named the second-best new restaurant in the country by Bon App├ętit.
EDITOR'S NOTE: There are so many Filipino restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles area that the debate can go on-and-on which one is the best. It is like asking which is the best Chinese restaurant? It is impossible to reach a consensus, it seems everyone has their favorite. Readers, tell me: Which and where is the Best Filipino Restaurant?
Researching the history of Filipinos in Washington is a hobby for Erwin Tiongson, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and his wife, Titchie Carandang-Tiongson. 

Their effort to recreate the historic dinner was featured in the Washington Post recently:
It was a marvelous dinner. One hundred guests, many of whom were senators or generals. An ornate banquet room in the Willard Hotel and floral arrangements of magnolias, dahlias and lilies of the valley. There was chicken Perigueux and potato Lorette, ham and an array of salads, and, for dessert, a peach mousse and petits fours. The date? Aug. 30, 1916.
One hundred years ago, this grand party at the Willard was thrown by Manuel L. Quezon, the resident commissioner who represented the Philippines in the United States, which acquired the colony following the Spanish-American War. But the Jones Act of 1916, authored by Virginia congressman William Jones, established America’s commitment to the Philippines’ independence and structured its legislature. The bill had been signed that morning, and the next morning, Quezon would depart for Manila. The dinner was his farewell.
Researching the history of Filipinos in Washington is a hobby for Erwin Tiongson, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and his wife, Titchie Carandang-Tiongson. It’s an effort “to make Filipino-American history a little bit more tangible and immediate to people who care about those things, including our two children,” Tiongson said.
They first learned of the dinner in a coffee-table book and then dug through old Filipino newsletters and magazines, encountering lengthy accounts of the dinner, recalling all of the speeches, the gifts, the aforementioned flower arrangements and the menu. Along with Hank Hendrickson, executive director of the US Philippines Society, they realized that they had enough information to reenact the dinner on its centennial. The menu, which was printed in French in the Philippine Review, was as follows:
Reenacting the dinner is a more immersive way for the embassy’s guests — which will include Jones’s descendants — to experience the era they are celebrating.
“You’re getting a chance to experience living in it rather than reading about it,” said Bruce Reynolds, president of the Culinary Historians of Washington D.C. Dishes from 100 years ago weren’t radically different from what we eat now, though “cooking today, I’d say, has more layers of flavor.”
Did that little introduction whet your appetite? To read the rest of the article, click here.